The 49ers may have struck gold without realizing it.
San Francisco traded up to the No. 3 overall pick on March 26, leaving no room for doubt that the team was opting to select a passer at that spot in the 2021 NFL Draft.
While early rumors and conjecture speculated that head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch would take Alabama QB Mac Jones with the pick, Shanahan said he didn’t make a decision until April 19 — Trey Lance’s second pro day.
Speaking with NBC Sports’ Peter King, Shanahan revealed why the team opted for Lance over Jones despite all the momentum in favor of the ‘Bama QB.
His natural ability to play the quarterback position, just in terms of how he plays in the pocket, how he can go through the progressions, how, when no one’s open, that he gives it a chance, that he recognizes it. And how quick he reacts to turning it into an off-schedule play. He plays on tape like he’s a very poised, smart person who’s been playing the position for a while.
Then you look into the other attributes, and you’re like “Oh, I haven’t even gotten to the running skill set.” I haven’t gotten to the upside of how much better he can get, the more he plays. That’s what made me like him so much right away.
Shanahan’s reasoning is very much in line with what scouts and analysts said about Lance from the get-go: While raw, Lance’s pure physical attributes may be the best in the 2021 draft class and his intelligence and football IQ also play a big part into who he is as a passer.
After scouting Lance and watching more tape, Shanahan and Lynch came to an agreement that Lance would be the guy at No. 3 overall, leading to his selection on April 29. While Shanahan said he covets first-round picks, he understands the price to pay is worth it for a player of a high caliber.
Shanahan didn’t inform the coaches on the team that Lance would be the pick until Trevor Lawrence’s name was called on draft night.
While Lance is expected to get time on the field this season, for now, the 49ers still have Jimmy Garoppolo ahead of Lance on the depth chart, though trade rumors suggest Garoppolo could go before the start of the 2021 season.
The 49ers gave up two future first-round picks in order to move up to the third-overall pick. Now it’s up to Lance to prove them right.